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Citing ‘Interference,’ UN Investigating Judge Quits Court

The newly appointed judge of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), Mr. Siegfried Blunk (R) from Germany, attends the official sworn-in ceremony at a hotel in Phnom Penh September 5, 2008.

Siegfried Blunk, the UN investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, has resigned amid mounting criticism over his office’s handling of two cases at the tribunal.

A statement posted on the tribunal website “by the International Co-Investigating Judge” said he had resigned because “repeated statements” from Cambodian officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, objecting to two cases “will be perceived as attempted interference by government officials.”

Those cases, known to the court as 003 and 004, would potentially indict five more Khmer Rouge cadre who prosecutors say were responsible for mass atrocity crimes of the regime.

The statement said remarks by top officials should not influence a judge, but “his ability to withstand such pressure by government officials and to perform his duties independently could always be called in doubt.”

“This would also call in doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings in cases 003 and 004,” the statement said.

The announcement follows a Human Rights Watch statement last week calling for the resignation of both Blunk and the Cambodian investigating judge, You Bunleng, who together hastily concluded an investigation into two suspects in Case 003 and who said they had serious doubts about the roles of three more suspects in Case 004.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had received the resignation letter and would appoint reserve judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, of Switzerland, to the position.

The new judge will enter a court environment that has become increasingly toxic since April, when the investigating judges concluded Case 003 without interviewing the suspects or visiting key crime sites. Key staffers of the investigating judges’ office have resigned since then.

You Bunleng declined to comment on the specifics of Blunk’s statement, saying only Blunk was a “good cooperator.”

However, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, whose remarks on the tribunal were also noted by the Blunk statement as a cause for his resignation, said Blunk had “failed to cooperate with his colleague.” Khieu Kanharith dismissed allegations the government was interfering with the work of the court, which is moving toward the trial of four jailed leaders.

Blunk’s resignation is unlikely to blunt censure of the office; critics say it must thoroughly investigate all cases before it if the court is to remain viable.

“If the [tribunal] doors are shut without a full and frank investigation into cases 003 and 004, the UN will have failed the victims of the Khmer Rouge,” Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Monday.